Flash, fill flash, and flash off

Lucky for us, an automatic flash is included on just about every camera sold today. And most include a fill-flash setting for those less-than-perfect lighting situations that need a little boost. That doesn't mean the camera is fail-proof. You still need to know how and when to use these features.

General flash tips
Our favorite flash tips bear repeating:

  • Stay within flash range. Check your camera manual for the recommended range (usually 4 to 10 feet).
  • A higher-speed film may extend your flash by a few feet, so it does pay to use the higher-speed film, even indoors for flash pictures.
  • Batteries that are approaching exhaustion will not give full flash power even if the camera is still working.
  • Prevent red eye by asking your subjects to look slightly away from the camera, and turn on all the room lights to shrink their pupils.
  • Avoid use of the "red eye reduction" flash setting—to many people it's distracting and confusing.

Fill flash
Fill flash is included on most of today's cameras, and is a favorite feature. It is just enough flash to fill in areas of a picture that would otherwise be too dark.

Use fill flash for sunny day portraits to fill in those dark shadows under the eyes, nose, or under the rim of a baseball hat. It can even help in a difficult lighting situation, such as a dark complexion on a beach, or a child playing in the snow.

Fill flash is also useful for side-lit and back-lit pictures. For instance, a backlit scene may have enough bright areas in the background to provide an "average" brightness for the entire picture, but the actual subject is left in the dark. Fill flash balances the scene so that the subject is properly exposed, and the background is left alone.

Flash off
There are occasions when your camera thinks the flash is needed, but in fact it isn't. You probably have a "Flash Off" (or similar wording) setting on your camera. Here are a few examples of when to use it:

  • When you are too far away from your subject for the flash to be effective.
  • When the flash would create annoying reflections from mirrors and other shiny surfaces.
  • At sunset or in other low-light situations where you'd like a foreground subject to be silhouetted.
  • Where the quality of the existing light is beautiful, like a kitten sleeping in the sunbeam.
  • Where flash is not allowed (steady yourself against a wall and anchor your elbows at your side).